Should the controversial chemical Bisphenol-A, or BPA, remain in food and drink packaging, or should it be removed in the face of a growing body of studies questioning the health effect of low-dose exposure to the chemical after it leaches from food?
The Food and Drug Administration has faced this question for years, and has for the most part sided with the food and chemical industries, which vouch for the chemical's safety. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of independent scientists, along with health and environmental activists, have called for it to be removed.
Now, thanks to a settlement reached with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the FDA will decide whether BPA should continue being used in food and beverage packaging by March 31, 2012. The NRDC in 2008 petitioned the FDA to ban BPA's use in food and beverage packaging, and the court-ordered decision next spring will resolve the petition.
Studies, mostly in laboratories, but some in humans, suggest BPA's similarity to the human hormone estrogen could make it a surprisingly potent health risk even at low doses. Just as hormones, the body's chemical messengers, act on the body's organs and systems at low doses, the argument goes, so do so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals like BPA. Studies have linked exposure to a range of health problems ranging from obesity to reproductive problems.
BPA is commonly thought of as an ingredient of hard plastics, but it is also used in the lining of cans, including not only canned foods, but also soda cans. Some food and packaging manufacturers, along with some chemical companies, have stopped using the chemical, or stopped using it products for children. A patchwork of state and local laws regulate its use.
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